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Marc Mazur reviews Dark Ecology

Timothy Morton. Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. 208 pp.

Review by Marc Mazur

“Becoming a geophysical force on a planetary scale,” writes Timothy Morton in Dark Ecology, “means that no matter what you think about it, no matter whether you are aware of it or not, there you are, being that” (p. 21). This is the state of affairs of the Anthropocene, where ecological awareness, what Morton calls “ecognosis,” implicates us all in some sort of environmental film noir: just as the detective is also the criminal, the philosopher is part of the massively distributed thing that is the human species and contributes to mass extinction (p. 5). The darkness of noir is precisely the state in which Morton wants philosophy to remain because, as Morton writes, we “live inside a philosophy alongside worms, bees, plows, cats, and stagnant pools” but to which philosophy remains suspiciously “silent” (p. 46). Morton argues across three threads in Dark Ecology that philosophy is hamstrung because human thought has become entwined in the looping structure of what the book calls “agrilogistics,” a logic dating back to Mesopotamian agriculture that is responsible for how humans and megacorporations still think of nature as an easy-think substance and which remains the main obstacle for humanity to comprehend its part in global warming.

Morton’s critique of agrilogistics is strongest when he explores its presence in such figures as Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, and Martin Heidegger. Yet, one difficulty with Dark Ecology is that the sheer number of concepts results in some concepts appearing more tangential to the book’s central concern than others. The emphasis on play is partly responsible for this, as Morton argues play does not fall into the trap of using self-present concepts that proliferate under agrilogistics. Instead, “play is subscendence,” another of Morton’s new concepts, which “evokes an ontological gap between what a thing is and how it appears” (p. 116). Even if you don’t like to play, the indistinguishability of this gap informs ecognosis, best expressed by Morton’s description of the Ganzfeld effect produced by James Turrell’s light sculptures, what Morton calls “elemental art.” Described as an “infectious, viscous givenness from which one finds oneself incapable of peeling oneself away” (p. 134), ecognosis captures a sense of being that closely resembles what Jacques Lacan once said of the “intimate exteriority” of “extimacy.”[1]

Dark Ecology might not satisfy political economists, but it will appeal to ecocritics and those willing to rethink the concept of the human because, in the words of Morton, to “be ‘fully human’” is just such “a drag. We seem to have been trying that for twelve thousand years” (p. 116). As for the logic of future coexistence in the book’s subtitle, Morton does “not have a one-size-fits-all politics” but posits a politics “that includes what appears least political—laughter, the playful, even the silly” (p. 113). One criticism of Morton’s silliness is that it risks being too open-ended to counteract the dangers he locates in the agrilogistical devastation of the planet. And yet, Morton urges this open-endedness be taken seriously. In this light, Dark Ecology’s three separate threads do not tie together all of Morton’s thoughts. Rather, Morton’s provocative book urges the reader to braid, to twist, or to play cat’s cradle with its looping logic.


[1] Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, trans. Dennis Porter (New York, 1992), p. 139.